The men’s hockey season is barely underway with Wisconsin coming off a split in its opening series. But looming ahead for the Badgers is both their first road series and Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference matchup of the season Friday and Saturday at Michigan Tech.
Still, simply preparing and keeping things straightforward while improving his young team is all that head coach Mike Eaves seemed concerned with when discussing the state of his team at his weekly press conference Monday.
In regards to the upcoming series at Michigan Tech, Eaves said he feels it makes things less complicated than last weekend’s series at the Kohl Center.
“Personally, I think getting on the road for the first series is kind of a blessing in disguise,” Eaves said. “I think it’s good to get on the road. It’s simpler. You don’t have to worry about tickets as much, and what’s going on at the dorm, people coming into town, so I don’t look at so much as a challenge.”
“It’s a good chance for us to come together, and other than we’ve got to play somebody, it just happens to be in somebody else’s rink, and I think sometimes if the pressure’s off, we can play a simpler game and just go have at it,” he added.
One area the Badgers are watching closely is the transition to the collegiate game for two freshman goaltenders — Landon Peterson, who started game one, and Joel Rumpel, game two starter against Northern Michigan. Despite Peterson coming away with the loss and Rumpel a win, Eaves said he is encouraged by both, and in his postgame interview following game two, he said each deserves a chance to start more games.
He expounded on that observation Monday.
“Both played very well,” Eaves said. “I think that the biggest difference in the two young goalies was that Landon looked more comfortable quicker. Joel, it took him that first period to kind of get through that. ‘Oh, they scored on me. I got that done. I don’t have to worry about pitching a shutout anymore.’”
Eaves has said before that seeing what type of team these Badgers will develop into is the fun part of the season, and that he got a small glimpse after watching the Northern Michigan games on film.
“We played pretty well for being such a young team,” Eaves said. “If you were to take a look at that game and, structurally, how we played our systems and such, we looked beyond our time together, and that was fun.”
Eaves said he was very pleased to get a strong offensive series from sophomore forward Mark Zengerle. Although Zengerle led the team in assists a year ago with 31, he only had five goals on 60 shots the entire season. Despite not scoring a goal in the opening series, Zengerle tallied 12 shots on goal, precisely what Eaves said he has been looking for.
“Every athlete has the strengths and weakness and will play to them,” Eaves said. “It’s just natural. So Mark’s going in the right direction, and Saturday was a good example. In practice, we’re seeing it more. We’re trying to change a behavior.”
And while Eaves said he is looking for certain individuals to step up, he does recognize that for this team to be successful, it must not rely on specific players to keep the team afloat.
“We’re going to have to do it by committee,” Eaves said. “I think our power play is going to have to get revved up and be a major contributor if we’re going to be successful, but by committee is going to be the call of the year.”